And Now It’s July

After a particularly windy day, we found a tiny little nest on the ground, blown out of a hedgerow:

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So delicate and soft, it had been woven out of Badger fur. But what sort of British bird would have a nest so small?

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Well, it is lucky that we have the bird ringer to pose these questions to – apparently this is just the soft nest lining of a bigger nest, possibly Chaffinch. I love that the birds have been out collecting Badger fur so that their babies can be comfortable.

The bird ringer was back ringing in the meadows in a lull in the weather this week.

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Juvenile Dunnock

He mentioned that the young Kestrels are now old enough to be standing at the entrance to their nest in the white cliffs. We high-tailed it down there that very afternoon:

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Young Kestrel soon to fledge

Two chicks were visible in the nest and this adult female was immediately below the hole:

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There was a lot of Kestrel activity there that day

As we walked further along, we think we found a second Kestrel nest. Certainly a Kestrel briefly landed at it which is what drew our attention:

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If you peer into the photo, it is just possible to see a fluffy white chick within this black hole – we could see it much more clearly through our binoculars. This nest hole is lower than the original one and I am hoping it will be possible to get better photos of this nest as the baby gets older.

Chicks have now started hatching in the cliff-nesting House Martin colony:

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How lovely.

We also saw this Seal:

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Seal with a fish
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Using its flippers

I am not very familiar with Seals and I reminded myself yet again about what the differences between Grey and Common (or Harbour) Seals are. This next photo from the internet shows the larger Grey Seal in the middle with the Roman nose. The Common Seals on either side have a different face shape – almost a snub nose.

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So that would definitely make our Seal a Grey Seal.

A few miles north from here, the River Stour enters the sea and last summer we took a boat trip along the Stour as far as its mouth where Seals are known to haul out.

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The mouth of the Stour with the Isle of Thanet in the background. How did that tower block ever get planning permission?

Now that I have revised again the difference between Grey and Common Seals, I see that these were definitely Common Seals:

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The rather alarming ginger colour shows that they have recently been spending time at  a particular place on the Thames in Essex where there is mud that stains them that colour.

However, it is Grey Seals who haul out onto the Goodwin Sands when they are exposed at low tide. These notorious sands lie directly offshore from the meadows and have been responsible for thousands of shipwrecks over the centuries, although these days they are surrounded by lightships and warning buoys. Two ships, responsible for looking after these structures, often come and drop anchor alongside us. The Patricia and the Galatea look quite similar and we get confused between them, but it was definitely the Galatea that was here overnight this week:

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The Galatea is operated by Trinity House, the body responsible for lighthouses and marine navigation aids around the coasts of Btiain

Although not so much in the news these days, the issue of migrants coming across the channel to land at this part of the coast is still very much on-going – all the more perilous for these people in this time of pandemic. Border Force vessels maintain a presence in these waters and are a familiar sight to us:

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Another week further on into the summer and all seven Badgers are still present and correct at dusk when the peanuts go down. Those headlights in the top left hand corner are the eyes of a Fox that is having to wait until the Badgers have finished before it can move in:

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Here are the three Fox cubs and their father seeing if the Badgers have left them any peanuts:

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But the Fox cubs have now discovered that food is also going out onto the pinnacle where the Badgers don’t go:

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We can’t have a whole post without the one-eyed vixen appearing and here she is on the right with one of her cubs.

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One of the cubs
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Another Fox up on the strip. The camera was wonky – the sea is not really at this angle
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I love this photo. This is the young, first-time mother playing with her single cub

A Grey Wagtail visited the hide pond:

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The bird ringer tells us that the Grey Wagtails breeding in local chalk rivers have already finished their second broods and may be going on to a third. So this bird is most likely to have fledged from one of the first two broods and is now dispersing.

We liked this photo of a Blackbird flying off from the strip with a sunflower seed in his beak:

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We had been keeping this gate between the two meadows propped open during the pandemic so that the bird ringer didn’t have to touch any infrastructure when he came to do his ringing. However, we missed seeing the variety of birds that perch on it and so we have now closed it again unless the bird ringer is expected. In particular, it is a favourite spot for the Sparrowhawks to rest a while and watch for their unfortunate prey:

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In the past week, the grasses seem to have gone much browner as we approach high summer:

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The Wild Carrot is at its best
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Two Swollen-thighed Beetles on Scabious, their thighs shining like jewels.
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A Grasshopper with raspberry-coloured armour. This is the purple form of Field Grasshopper
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A Gatekeeper Butterfly was first seen on 3rd July with its distinctive double white spots
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Some Butterfly species such as this Peacock had disappeared but have now started to be seen again as the second broods hatch

In the wood, we saw about twenty Peacock caterpillars prominently placed on a patch of Nettle at the woodland margin. Nettle is the larval food plant of this Butterfly.

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A very striking-looking Caterpillar

These Caterpillars will have been all living altogether in a communal web when they were smaller but, now they are close to pupating, they have become solitary, sitting fully exposed on leaves. They will pupate and then hatch out as second brood adults during the rest of the summer. At the beginning of September they will find somewhere safe and protected to hibernate over winter as adults so that they can be one of the first Butterflies on the wing next year.

The farm that runs alongside the wood changed hands last year and the new owner has taken it out of agriculture and is managing it for nature. This spring, he planted thousands of young trees in the field next to our wood. This is such a dry part of the country, we were wondering how he was going to keep them watered this summer whilst they establish themselves. Well, we now have our answer because he has built a temporary water tower in one corner of the field:

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There continues to be a tremendous number of Great Tits visiting the deeper pond at the wood. I count fourteen of them in this photo below. We are taking credit for this, whether justified or not, because we think that these are families recently fledged from the nest boxes.

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The Green Woodpecker nest in the Cherry Tree that we were watching must surely have failed because all activity there abruptly stopped. We are also not seeing any juvenile Green Woodpeckers on the cameras. Here is an adult bird:

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A lovely shot of a Jay:

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And we finish today with a Badger, looking absolutely right and at peace in its woodland habitat.

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Foxes and Badgers

The cliff-dwelling Foxes and Badgers have to rub shoulders with each other here. They all share the same hole under the fence to get from the cliffs into the meadows and they all gather at the same place at dusk when the peanuts go down.

An unwritten agreement has been reached to make it work and it is the Foxes who are careful to give way to the Badgers at any hint of confrontation and actually it seems to be choreographed perfectly – we rarely observe any interaction between them. Although occasionally a Badger will chase a Fox off and this is reminiscent of a charging Rhino. During the winter, the Badgers aren’t especially interested in the peanuts when their metabolism is slowed and it is easy to dig for worms in the soft ground. At this time of year, however, they are very keen:

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The Fox cub on the right has to wait on the margins while the herd of seven Badger take priority in hoovering up the peanuts
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The same thing happening on another evening. The Fox looks dejected and this tugs at my heart strings.

However, I also put peanuts (and currently sandwiches as well) on the pinnacle up in the Ant paddock. The Badgers don’t go in here until later in the night by which time the Foxes have eaten everything and so the Badgers have never discovered that this is happening. Never, that is, until now:

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It will be interesting to see how this now develops.

The Fox cubs are growing up in the meadows:

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Cub with its mother, the One-eyed vixen
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The one-eyed vixen has now finished her second course of mange treatment. There now follows a heart-in-mouth wait to see if it has worked and her fur starts growing back.
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One of the triplets

In the wood, there are both Foxes and Badgers as well but the Foxes seem to be in much lower density and there is no cliff effect to concentrate the animals into bottlenecks.

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There are at least three Badger cubs in the wood and they are small – much the size of the small Badger cub in the meadows that we are worried about. Rather than that cub being small, perhaps it’s just that the triplets are super-sized and we don’t need to be concerned at all.

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A small Badger cub in the wood
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Three cubs playing in the wood

Last year, as the hot summer got into its stride, Buzzards started coming down to the shallow ponds in the wood and this seems to be starting again now. It is such a treat to see them up close:

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Large family groups of Great Tits and Blue Tits are appearing at the wood ponds as the young fledge. There was also this gathering of three just-fledged Song Thrush:

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The second meadow is starting to put its summer clothes on as the yellow Ladies Bedstraw comes out into flower. We always think it looks like an impressionist painting  with these patches of colour.

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This Fly caught my eye. I could tell there was something odd about it but it was only when I looked at the photos afterwards did I realise that its abdomen is being carried tucked under in a way that I have never before seen in a Fly:

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This is Sicus ferrugineus – and it is perhaps no surprise to learn that something with an abdomen like this is a parasitoid – the unfortunate hosts that will be killed by this Fly are Bumblebees.

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A mating pair of Buff-tailed Bumblebees

There are just so many Marbled White and Large, Small and Essex Skipper Butterflies around this year. It’s wonderful to see them all.

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Large Skipper with its checkerboarding

Six Spot and Narrow-bordered Five Spot Burnet Moths are also doing very well.

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A Narrow-bordered Five Spot Burnet Moth just emerged from its pupa below
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A close up of the pupal case
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Six Spot on the left and Narrow-bordered Five Spot on the right.
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The first Common Darter Dragonfly seen on 25th June
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Mating Common Red Soldier Beetles. I’m afraid that another name is the Hogweed Bonking Beetle. Rhagonycha fulva.

I have been putting the Moth trap out often. One of the many delights of Moths are their English names, given to them by our Victorian forebears and often very memorable – I often get a Moth called ‘Uncertain’ in the trap and this week I got a Moth called ‘Confused’

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Confused

Last night I caught four Bright Wave in the trap.

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Bright Wave

This unassuming little thing doesn’t have a silly name but it is a rare Moth that only breeds in a few areas dotted along along an 18km stretch of this part of the East Kent coastline. The area of vegetated shingle below the meadows is known to be good for them and, in May last year, I went down there with a Butterfly Conservation ecologist to help him do the annual count of their caterpillars. I was delighted to find this one myself on Ragwort because they were difficult to spot until you got your eye in:

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A Bright Wave caterpillar (in the middle of the photo), very well disguised on Ragwort

On several occasions recently we have seen Kestrels carrying prey, heading back to their nest in the white cliffs. We went along to see how the nest was getting on but, in fact, there was little to be seen although the nest does look active. However, while we were there, there were other interesting things going on:

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Pyramidal Orchids

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It feels so special to have a cliff-dwelling House Martin colony there, one of only a handful in the UK where they are not nesting on buildings:

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This week we also went to Park Gate Down, a Kent Wildlife Trust reserve in East Kent that is renowned for its many different types of Orchid. In particular, it is one of only three sites in Britain where Monkey Orchids still grow.

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This is ancient chalk grassland that has never been fertilised or ploughed. Look at those anthills! Tucked away in the beautiful Elham Valley, it is so quiet there that we can even take the dog without worry that she will cause chaos.
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Just to be clear, this is the at-times poorly behaved but immensely loveable dog that we are talking about

The end of June is too late for Monkey Orchids or indeed many of the other Orchids that grow there but Fragrant Orchids were flowering in their thousands.

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Nice to get out and make the most of these beautiful long summer evenings.

It’s been quiet on the shipping front this week although this was a striking image with two ships anchored up alongside the meadows one night. The Whitdawn in the foreground is a regular but the large ship in the background is new – GH Storm Cat. She is a bulk carrier and I see that, after spending a couple of days with us here in Kent, she is now on her way to Brazil, expected to arrive on 7th July.

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The last photo today is of the Cherry tree. This year, along with every other year we have been here, we are not expecting to harvest a single cherry from this tree. Currently it is being stripped by those Starlings we were so delighting in.

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Squirrel Eviction

Five years ago, when we were newly arrived and had no real idea what we were doing, Kent Wildlife Trust came to do a botanical survey here and produced a report advising on the best way to manage the meadows for wildlife. Whilst they were with us, they suggested that we seeded a rectangle in the first meadow with a perennial wildflower mix suitable for calcareous grassland. We cut the grass down really hard that September to expose as much earth as we could and broke the soil up by raking before spreading the seed.

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The rectangle that was planted with Emorsgate seed EM6F five years ago

Half a decade later and, in contrast to the surrounding grasses, this rectangle is full of flowers and billowing with Butterflies, Bees and Hoverflies. If ever there was an advert  for stopping mowing some of your lawn and sowing some wild flowers, then this is it.

This year, once the seed heads have formed and ripened, we will cut this rectangle and lay the green hay onto another area of the meadow for a while. In this way, hopefully the seeds will drop and then we get this wonderful flower diversity elsewhere without having to buy more seed.

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After seeing the damage that Grey Squirrels have been doing to the Beech Trees in the wood, we wanted to have a look in the six large bird boxes and evict any Squirrels that we could, although we are aware that they may be having second broods. Back in the spring, we had seen Squirrels nesting in every one of the boxes by using trail cameras mounted on to poles.

This week, we found Squirrel nests in five of the boxes. Of these, two of the boxes had Squirrels actually in them and we couldn’t get a good enough view to see if they had young in the box.  So we left these nests alone for now.

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There were two Squirrels in this Tawny Owl box. One darted out but the other one hunkered down and so may have had young underneath. We closed this box back up and left it

However the empty nests in the other three boxes were cleared out. Owls may be looking for somewhere to raise second broods and we wanted as many boxes as possible to be available should they want to use them.

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Clearing a Squirrels nest out of a Barn Owl box

All of the Squirrels nests looked similar and were made up of sticks and leaves with a soft topping of moss.

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We were able to clear out this empty nest in a woodcrete Tawny box

But in the sixth box there was a nest that looked very different, being made of just grass with no visible entrance.

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We don’t think that this is a Squirrel nest and I have sent this photo to Kent Mammal Group to see if they think that it may be Dormice.

Great Spotted Woodpecker chicks have fledged somewhere in the wood – we didn’t manage to find the nest this year and now it is too late.

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Mother feeding just-fledged young

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The large Red Deer continues to pay occasional visits to our part of the wider wood:

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A lovely couple of calming woodland scenes:

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Back at the meadows, the nights are getting warmer and there are many more Moths in the trap in the mornings. Many more individual Moths and also many more species – and with more time on my hands at the moment, I’m finding this fact exciting rather than daunting.

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A selection of the many Hawkmoths that were caught one night

The Eyed Hawkmoth is one of the more amazing ones:

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Eyed Hawkmoth flashing its ‘eyes’ to scare off a predator

I often catch these large Ophion sp Ichneumonid Wasps in the trap and they are a bit scary looking.

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I asked my Mothing assistant if he would pot this one up so that I could get a better photo of it. Unfortunately, he fumbled it a bit and ended up getting stung which apparently really hurt. In the ensuing chaos, the insect seized the moment and took off and so I never did get my photo.

I was confused by all this because I hadn’t realised that they could sting. However, after doing a bit more research, I think that, rather than being stung, he must have been stabbed with  its ovipositor. These Wasps lay their eggs into living caterpillars, I’m afraid, and so their ovipositors must be strong enough to go into flesh. How many humans can say they have been stabbed by an Ichneumonid Wasp? I think it is something to be proud of.

Here is a different Ichneumonid that we also saw this week:

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Ichneumon xanthorius. Look at its ridiculously slender black waist. This is a male, but the females will again be laying her eggs into live Caterpillars.

 

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Increasingly, I find Insects completely fascinating, particularly the interactions between different species. These Wasps below are Ornate Tailed Digger Wasps, Cerceris rybyensis. It was a bit difficult to work out what was going on here but I think it was a mating pair and a third one was trying to get in on the act:

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These Wasps dig deep tunnel nests into compacted soil, often in colonies. A friend found a colony of these Wasps (or a very similar species) near his home in Maidenhead and he has let me include his photo of one of their tunnels:

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A Digger Wasp emerging from her nest

These Digger Wasps hunt small Mining Bee females and like to attack them as they are returning to their nest heavily laden with pollen so that they can’t easily evade capture. The female Bee is stung and paralysed and taken back to the Wasp’s tunnel where she remains still alive for up to two days to be fresh food for the Wasp larvae. Each larva is provisioned with many such Bees. Actually, it’s like something from a horror film.

I happened to be in the right place to spot a Hummingbird Hawkmoth become entangled in a Spider web. The Spider shot out shockingly fast from where it was lurking but we managed to get the Moth out from its clutches in time, clear away the sticky web from its wings and let it happily fly off again, none the worse for wear. The Spider lost its lunch but I really don’t feel guilty about that.

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The rescued Hummingbird Hawkmoth at rest. It is quite a worn one with that bald patch on the top of its head.

We saw a Ringlet Butterfly in the meadows for the first time on 18th:

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Ringlet

June is just such a fantastic time for insects in the meadows:

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Two Six Spot Burnet Moths
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Mating Six-spot Burnets
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Marbled Whites on Greater Knapweed
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Lots of Cockchafers flying around the hedgerows in the evenings. They bump into me as I walk out at dusk to put the peanuts out which was a bit unnerving before I got used to it.
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I am not sure what this hospital-green Beetle is, but its very lurid against the Kidney Vetch
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A well disguised Click Beetle, Agrypnus murinus. Click Beetles can click loudly to give a potential predator a shock, giving the Beetle time to escape. The mechanism to make the click can also be used to right themselves if they get turned upside down.
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Tiger Crane Fly, Nephrotoma flavescens

We are attempting to catch the eye of passing Turtle Dove by adopting the strategy of spreading seed on the strip. The flocks of Wood Pigeon and Stock Dove that come to eat the seed will tempt the Turtle Dove down to see what’s going on. Unfortunately, we are yet to see a Turtle Dove, but the strategy was proven to work this week when it attracted down two Racing Pigeon.

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Note the colourful leg rings

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These birds are still with us several days later. Have they got lost? After all, they are meant to be in a race. They are noticeably much tamer than wild birds and I was able to get quite close to take these photos.

Another strategy we are applying is to play Swift calls loudly into the sky to bring Swifts in and alert them to the presence of our nest box. This is also proving successful and there is much Swift action to be seen as small groups feed over the meadows and then wheel round past the box, screaming, throughout the day. We are yet to see one actually go in the box though.

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Next to the Swift box is a House Martin box, although it is actually House Sparrows that are nesting in it:

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The bird ringer has been down to the cliffs this week to see how the House Martin colony is getting on there. Apparently nest building is still ongoing and he took this fantastic photo of a bird collecting material for its nest.

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Here are some more of his photos that he took while he was there:

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Peregrine Falcon – ringed, I notice, so probably not born on the cliffs.
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Rock Pipit

The bird ringer also went off to ring young Barn Owls in nest boxes along the Stour valley this week. He does this every year but this year there were no young Owls to ring in the boxes which was really disappointing. He did, however, ring this surprising clutch of young Kestrels that he found in one of the Owl boxes. There were four babies, although only two can be seen here, along with two cold eggs.

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Up at Sandwich Bay, he took this photo of a Great Green Bush Cricket on a Lizard Orchid:

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We have been playing an elaborate game of cat and mouse with a pair of Grey Partridge. They have been in the second meadow for several weeks now and we put them up most days as we walk around the circumference of the meadow. It is actually really good news that they haven’t come up to the seed and cameras on the strip at the top – the meadow is providing what they need without any supplementary feed.

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Cameras at the ready for the Grey Partridge

However, we would like to get a photo of them. Every day we walk round with cameras at the ready, but they seem to know exactly when we lose concentration and that is the moment when they burst from the undergrowth and fly off to a different part of the meadow.  After several weeks of trying, the best photo of them that I can offer you is this:

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There is not much to report on the meadow’s mammals this time. A Rabbit has been coming to the strip and this is the first time we have seen a Rabbit here for several years:

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Here is one of the Badger triplets being taught how to collect bedding:

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The one-eyed vixen is now nearly at the end of the course of mange medication that we have been giving her. I really hope that this second type has worked this time, although in this photo below she is still itching:

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We had another 17mm of rain this week. Here she is, wet and looking her absolute worst

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This Irish ship, the Arklow Castle, was moored alongside us for many days and started to feel like part of the family. It was very empty and buoyant – no red would be visible on its hull once it is loaded:

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We have also seen two cruises ships coming into Dover this week. This is Carnival Breeze:

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We also saw Disney Magic come in. We went to Dover this week and drove up to a viewpoint overlooking the port – Disney Magic was still there.

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Disney Magic moored at the brand new cruise ship berth. To the left is the new marina and the building with the solar panels to the right is where the old Hoverport used to be
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This is the old cruise ship berth. The white hotel building and train terminus behind it date back to when there was a train ferry here. This all closed down once the channel tunnel opened and it is now the site of the cruise ship passenger terminal.

The country is starting to reopen and a new normal is tentatively emerging. However, I am unsure what the future is going to hold for cruise ships and for all these new facilities that Dover Harbour is currently building for them. We shall have to see how things progress.

 

 

 

 

 

A Few Drops of Rain

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A wet Fox! We have had some rain – not enough to make any noticeable difference to the gasping ponds but we will gratefully accept what we have been given. The rain gauge reports that a glorious 20mm has fallen in the last week.

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A wet Badger cub. Although mortality in cubs is high, this year’s four cubs still remain with us, including this little one which is now only about half of the size of the other cubs
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Out and about in wet weather gear  – we shouldn’t be so delighted about it but this is what the drought has done to us
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Trying to magnify the effect of any rainfall by increasing the wild pond’s catchment area

This week we went to nearby Lydden Temple Ewell nature reserve, 220 acres of chalk grassland and a wonderful haven for Butterflies in July and August. At this time of year there are hundreds of Fragrant Orchids out, although they are really small with so little rain this spring.

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The Lydden Temple Ewell reserve and the beautiful valley beyond

We also went up to Sandwich Bay to see the Lizard Orchids. They are such odd plants:

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They too looked like they have been affected by the dry weather, although I think we were also a bit early for them. We will try again in a couple of weeks – its good to have a reason to go off to such a lovely place, although the dog will insist on barking at the waves.

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Last year, Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory had a major fundraising effort to buy the land  in which they had dug their scrape. They had previously been renting the land but, now that they have bought it, they have been able to increase its size and carry out all sorts of other improvements. Unfortunately, its grand opening is currently put on hold.

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Now, as we drove past the newly dug banks, Poppies were having a complete field day on the disturbed soil.

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The banks of Restharrow Scrape were like this along their entire length

It was an absolute spectacle. I hadn’t previously considered the wildlife credentials of Poppies but we have noticed that the few here in the meadows are really attractive to Bumblebees and other pollinators:

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So what a nectar bonanza all those Poppies on the banks of Restharrow Scrape must be providing this year.

2020 is meant to be the year that I am focusing on improving my Bee recognition skills and, since there are lots of Bumblebees about, I am concentrating on them for now. The UK has only 24 species of Bumblebee and so how difficult can it really be? The answer appears to be that it’s actually quite difficult – certainly that’s what I’m finding.

These two Bumblebees below are interesting. The Bee at the back is the Buff-tailed Bumblebee. The Bee at the front, with its white tail bordered by sulphur yellow, is the Vestal Cuckoo Bee which is parasitic on the Buff-tailed Bumblebee.

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Bombus terrestris, the Buff-tailed Bumblebee, at the back and Bombus vestalis, the Vestal Cuckoo Bee, at the front

The Vestal Cuckoo Bee will seek out a Buff-tailed Bumblebee nest, kill the queen, lay her own eggs in the nest and the Buff-tailed workers will then look after the Cuckoo Bee young rather than the young of their own species.

I feel on much firmer ground with Moths and Butterflies. We saw the first Burnet Moths in the meadows on 10th June:

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Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet Moth. What a fabulous thing. I have never noticed the blue striping on its abdomen before and that its antennae are also blue.
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Large Skipper Butterfly
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Large and vigorous Red Admiral warming up on a Reptile sampling square

There are quite a few splodges of shockingly day-glo orange Slime Mould growing on a Dog Rose in the hedgerow. Slime Moulds live freely as single cells when their microorganism food is abundant. But when food becomes scarce, many will come together and start moving as a single body as is happening with this one below. Apparently there are a few bright orange slime moulds that look like this one but, if it goes on to produce fruiting bodies, it might be possible to then properly identify it.

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We found this dead Pygmy Shrew and what a nose it has:

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Pygmy Shrews are much smaller than Common Shrews but we didn’t have both to compare and we also didn’t take any measurements. Pygmy Shrews, however, have a proportionately longer tail to body length as this internet photo below shows and so I am reasonably confident that this is a Pygmy Shrew.

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Shrews are killed by Kestrels amongst others but are often found abandoned by their predators since glands in their skin produce a foul tasting liquid.

The flock of around fifty young Starlings still remains a prominent feature of meadow life at the moment.

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I include this photo of a Carrion Crow because it puts me in mind of a Victorian lady in mourning with her jet black skirts..

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..and this one looks a bit Dickensian as well:

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Just when I thought that I had understood what was going on with Fox cubs this year, one night there were three of them. We have only seen three the once this year:

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Is this third cub also the offspring of the one-eyed vixen and her mate?

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The rather tatty-looking one-eyed vixen
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Her rather handsome mate with the cubs

Since I stopped treating the Foxes for mange about a fortnight ago, the one-eyed vixen has very rapidly developed another balding area behind her ear. This is so depressing – I thought she was better.

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I have been in touch with The Fox Project again and they have recommended now trying a different treatment – Psorinum 30c. As with the Arsen Sulphur that I was previously using, this remedy is again made from natural ingredients and it does not matter if an uninfected Fox or other animal takes it instead of our target animal. It is a one-week treatment and has been found to be effective on Foxes with up to 40% hair loss due to mange. It should arrive early next week and fingers crossed that this works for her.

She is the only one of the resident Foxes that now has mange. The rest of the Foxes here are looking great:

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The Badgers are looking good too, although we do have concerns about that little one. The triplets are now not far off the size of their parents:

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One of the triplets in the front here

An enormous yacht sailed past us this week – the people standing below the beam help put the thing in proportion. If those are people, how tall is that mast?

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This yacht is Geist, 34 metres by 7metres, and she has just been built in Britain – in the Spirit Yachts Boatyard in Ipswich, Suffolk. She was only launched on 4th March 2020 and is the largest single-masted wooden yacht to be built in the UK since 1930.

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Internet photo of Geist in the Spirit yard
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Internet photo of the owners cabin on Geist. Personally, I find that lack of portholes below deck terribly claustrophobic
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Internet photo of the galley and dining area

She is indeed a luxurious superyacht. She flies a Portuguese flag and so I wonder if she was sailing past the meadows on her journey from Ipswich to Portugal.

My final photo for today is of a beautiful sunset over the meadows this week – at this time of year this is at about 9.30pm, a fact that is almost unbelievable in the depths of December.

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Seventy-Six Years Ago..

Seventy-six years ago today, 156,000 men landed in Normandy, marking a turning point in the war.

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There was bad weather on 5th June 1944 and D-Day got pushed back a day. All those men had to deal with their nervous energy, apprehension and dread for another twenty-four hours until a lull in the weather created a window of opportunity on 6th June allowing it all to go ahead. Seventy-six years later we find ourselves once more in challenging times as again poor weather batters the meadows at this same point in June.

Men were not being loaded onto ships here – our part of the coast was more about trying to trick Hitler into thinking the invasion was going to be further east, across the much shorter Dover-Calais part of the Channel. But we have Poppies flowering in the disturbed ground along the line of the new hedgerow and it seems appropriate to start with these to mark all those countless lives that were lost this day back in 1944 for the good of all of us that follow.

 

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A Union Jack proudly flying in the meadows, mirrored by another further along the coast

Whenever you look out over the meadows at the moment, there is a Kestrel to be seen hunting. With all that hovering in last week’s heat, they were getting hot and thirsty and so were also turning up at the ponds:

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You can just see that this bird is ringed on her right leg – most probably this is the young female that the bird ringer caught here in the meadows last year. I do remember that she took a chunk out of his hand
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Male at the hide pond

We thought that this increased activity suggested that young had now been born in their nest in the nearby white cliffs.

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The fabulous Moonraker cliffs
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Disused Royal Marines rifle range at the base of the cliffs

We walked along to the nest and, actually, there was nothing interesting to report going on at the Kestrel nest although we did see a male Kestrel.

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However, I was really excited to see a small colony of House Martins building their nests on the cliffs, high up, tucked under protective ledges of the chalk.

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Two nests close together here

Last year’s nests would never survive the winter on these cliffs and so the birds have to start again each year, a nest taking more than a 1,000 beak-sized pellets of mud and up to 10 days to build.

They were getting the mud from the edges of this pool, formed by sea water that breaks over the sea defences at high tide:

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Bird ringer’s photo of the House Martins gathering mud at the pond – he goes here as well and has more patience to stand still and wait
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House Martin with Ramsgate behind

House Martins traditionally built their nests on cliffs but, by the 19th Century, they started making use of buildings allowing them to extend their range. There are now only a handful of cliff-dwelling colonies in the country.

Nest building is only just starting here at the white cliffs this year and the birds will have two or maybe even three broods, keeping going possibly until October before embarking on the long journey back to Africa. We counted about 10 nests so far but will now be visiting regularly to keep an eye on the progress of the colony over the summer.

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There is also a small nesting colony of Fulmars here – maybe around 20 nests. These birds only come to land at this time of year to nest, the rest of the year they are out at sea.
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We also saw Jackdaws nesting in this hole. Here is one of the adults taking a faecal sack out

At the base of the cliffs, a little group of just-fledged Whitethroats were cuddled up on a branch still being fed by their parents:

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Back in the meadows, Green Woodpeckers seem to be continually at work amongst the long grass, pecking into Ants’ nests for their food. One of the birds around this year has an unusual drab colouration:

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They eat the Ant eggs, larvae and the adult Ants as well – they have a very long tongue covered in sticky saliva to help with this. Woodpecker droppings look a bit like cigarettes:

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The white outer casing is hard and dry. If you break it open a bit, you can see the exoskeletons of Ants within:

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I wasn’t initially sure what this very spotty bird below was and had to look it up in the book. It is a juvenile Dunnock:

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The bird ringer then caught and ringed one:

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He also ringed a juvenile Chaffinch and this juvenile House Sparrow, still with a bit of its bright yellow gape:

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He also caught this lovely adult Coal Tit:

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Young birds are appearing everywhere, including young Magpies which are a bit less welcome here.

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Two short-tailed young Magpies with their parent
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Three young here. They have had a good year.
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Starlings also seem to have had a very successful year. There is one black adult and the rest have been born this year. The Wood Pigeon looks a bit put out.

In previous years there have been several Fox families in the meadows but the only one this year seems to be that of the one-eyed vixen. I do now think that both the young cubs here are hers:

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The whole family

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The one-eyed vixen continues to turn up on cameras all over the meadows:

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June has arrived and so have the Skippers. We saw an Essex Skipper on 1st June:

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and a Large Skipper, with the slight checkerboarding on the forewings on the 2nd:

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On 4th June, we fleetingly saw the first Marbled White of the year and a Meadow Brown on the 5th.

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The first Marbled White of the year

There are only 59 species of Butterflies that breed regularly in this country and we see 22 of those in the meadows every year. There is always room for improvement, though. The bird ringer went to a nearby nature reserve this week, Lydden Temple Ewell, which Kent Wildlife Trust maintain as wonderfully biodiverse chalk grassland. He took these photos of mating Adonis Blue Butterflies:

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A tantalising glimpse of the wonderfully bright blue upper wings of the male. Both sexes have diagnostic fine black veins that cross the outer white fringes of their wings

Sadly, we don’t yet see Adonis Blues or Chalkhill Blues in the meadows but I am on a quest to put that right. Both of these Butterflies use Horseshoe Vetch as their sole larval food plant and over the last couple of years I have been growing Horseshoe Vetch in the greenhouse and planting it into the meadows where previously there wasn’t any.  This project is ongoing – it will take a few years to build up a sufficient bank of this Vetch to have any hope of attracting them in.

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Horseshoe Vetch now growing in the meadows

We have an arachnophobic daughter who thinks that these posts should carry a Spider Alert warning banner so that she doesn’t accidentally come across an image of a Spider without first being prepared. So I can now reassure her that the following images of insects seen about the meadows over the last week do not include that of a Spider:

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Small Heath on Salad Burnet
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Green Hairstreak on Wild Mignonette. The Green Hairstreaks are all getting a bit worn by this point of the year.
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Yellow Shell Moth
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One of the three species of the Urophora jaceana group. This little Gall Fly causes galls on Knapweed. What an amazing looking thing.
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Honey Bee with its pollen sacks on its legs, visiting a Bramble flower
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One of my absolute favourites, Oedemera nobilis -or the Swollen-thighed Beetle -and other Beetles and Micro Moths
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Another Swollen-thighed Beetle on Wild Rose

The Hedgehog is back in the meadows by the wild pond and I really wish it wasn’t. This is close to where the Badger sett and Fox dens are, both of which eat Hedgehogs. This photo below is far from best quality but perhaps demonstrates what I am talking about. The little Hedgehog is standing left of centre. To the far left of the photo is a blur of a Badger and to the far right of the photo is a moving Fox. What I don’t really know is how readily they eat Hedgehogs – is is just occasionally when they are short of other things to eat or would they have eaten this one if they’d noticed it?

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Hedgehog and Fox. I don’t think either of them know the other is there.

Wandering through the regenerating part of the wood this week, we were horrified to see lots of Grey Squirrel damage to the Beech Trees.

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This beautiful and vigorous tree has been completely ringed and will now die. Bits of bark strewn all over the ground around the base.

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The Squirrels are pulling the bark off to get to the sweet sap being carried in the phloem just below. If they completely ring the tree, all phloem tubes will be cut and it can no longer transport sugars up to the part of the tree above the ring and that part will die. Even if the tree isn’t ringed, its growth will by adversely affected and it is vulnerable to fungal attack.

We researched the whole controversial subject when we got home. Grey Squirrel damage occurs from late April until the end of July to trees aged between 10 and 40 years, at which point the bark becomes too thick. Some years are much worse than others but it isn’t really known why. Controlling the number of Squirrels would be difficult in our wood because they will simply recolonise from other parts of the wider wood.

It was heartbreaking to see beautiful Beech Trees with this terrible damage. We have made a mental note to ensure that all Squirrels are evicted from the large Owl boxes once they have finished raising this year’s families and we will then insist that they do not return to breed in them again next year. We might not be prepared to kill them but equally we don’t want to make life too easy for them.

Here are a few photos from the trail cameras in the wood this week:

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A very dark Squirrel – almost black
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A Fox. We have been filling these shallow trays with water twice a week but they are drying up so quickly
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A Fox cub
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Badger in a woodland glade

I finish with the on-going project to get a decent photo of the Green Woodpecker young looking out of the nest hole. Progress is being made but the camera was too high and the image is just not sharp enough. It is the other adult looking out of the hole – I think that the young are not yet at that stage so I do still have a bit more time to get it right.

 

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We have now swapped in our best camera and reduced the height of the pole and we will see if this has worked when we next visit.

 

The Penny Drops

It has taken me a surprisingly long time to realise that the Green Woodpeckers nest in the wood is in the exact same hole that the Great Spotted Woodpeckers used last year. This photo from 2019 shows the Great Spotted bringing food to his chicks.

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This year, the camera is in a slightly different position but it is clearly the same hole that is being used by the Green Woodpeckers. I didn’t know they reused the holes of other species like that:

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Young Squirrels, with their insubstantial tails, are now out and about on their own in the wood and how very sweet they are:

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The peace and solitude to be found in the wood is, now more than ever, a thing to be treasured. We stood quietly for a while amongst the Ferns watching the Blue Tits working in the tops of the Birches, seeking out insects with which to feed their young. We think all twelve of the small boxes that we have put up now have nests with hungry families within. We shall be putting more up this coming autumn.

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With the lockdown rules now slightly eased, we met up with one of our children in the wood this week. It was the first time that we had seen any of our children for months and months and it felt like a small but significant step forwards. Here we are, celebrating our reunion, with some delicious pink champagne, pandemic style, whilst socially distanced in the wood.

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Strange times

Back in the meadows, the ponds are really interesting at this time of year.

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For several years, the late May Bank Holiday has only meant one thing for us –  Emperor Emergence time. Up to a hundred larvae would climb up the reeds on a warm, still evening and transform themselves into Britain’s largest Dragonfly, the magnificent Emperor. But last year, and this year as well it seems, there have only been a handful of them emerging.

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Newly emerged Emperor, wings still closed
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An hour later and nearly dark. Blood has been pumped into the wings which have now opened. The wings were also vibrating slightly, warming up the muscles and preparing for launch
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The same Dragonfly, from behind the reed, showing how very shiny the wings are when newly emerged

The ecosystems in our ponds are maturing and so may no longer suit Emperors so well who are pioneers of new ponds.

Damselflies are also very busy at this time of year.

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Large Red and Azure Damselflies
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The Large Red with his lovely eyes
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Mating Azure Damselflies. Blue male on top.
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After mating, the Azure Damselflies stay attached so that the male can ensure that no other male usurps him
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They are still attached while the eggs are being laid into the water

For all the many thousands of Tadpoles that hatched into the ponds, very few still seem to be around. But those that are to be seen are now very much larger and starting to develop back legs:

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Various Dragonfly larvae of all different sizes are a prominent feature of the life in our ponds. We pulled some blanket weed from the hide pond and we kept having to extricate these and return them to the waters.

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The larger larva is probably a Chaser(fuzzy with blanket weed) and the smaller a Darter

This is interesting – a Caddis Fly larval case, probably Limnephilus flavicornis. The larva has cut pieces of plant material  – all nicely to the same length – and used glue to stick these along with sand and other bits from the pond to form a hard and portable house for itself.

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This next photo from the internet is a different species of Caddis Fly but gives the idea of how the larva would use its house.

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While we were poking around in the ponds, something thrashing around wildly in the grass beside us caught our attention. It was this:

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When Slow Worms are threatened by a predator, they can discard their tails which keep moving and hopefully cause a sufficient diversion to enable the front of the animal to escape. I knew this happened but I had no idea that there was so much movement involved. It was really quite unnerving to see something without a head moving around quite so much.

So much about the natural world is fascinating. How does this moth know that it is green and so needs to find a green trunk to disguise itself on?

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Yellow-barred Brindle

This is a very striking-looking Beetle – the Red-headed Cardinal Beetle.

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Here she is, the lovely little one-eyed vixen that I have become so fond of this spring.

Trail cameraFor the past seven weeks we have been treating her and one other Fox for mange by putting out medicated jam sandwiches at dusk. Although we had seen fur growing back on the tail of the other Fox, this vixen didn’t seem to be responding so well.  However, in the photo above, it is clear that white fur is now growing at the top of her right thigh. Although still not a pretty sight, her tail also has fewer bare patches as well.

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Our job is now done and we can stop putting out the sandwiches. Or can we? Each evening, as I set out on my walk to dish out the sandwiches and peanuts, two beautiful Foxes have started waiting to waylay me along my route and I always throw them some of the bread. I can’t really remember now how this started, but I have built up a certain level of expectation in them and I hate the thought of them waiting there patiently for me and I do not arrive.

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This Fox is a bit braver than the other who went to hide in the shrubbery when he saw the camera coming out

I have decided to continue with the sandwiches, albeit now non-medicated. I remember, back in the days when we still went on holidays, how very stressful it was going away from these meadows  – arranging cover to refill the bird feeders, put out the peanuts, water the allotment. Foxes expecting sandwiches at dusk will surely only increase that pre-holiday stress but I will cross that bridge when I come to it and not think of it now.

Meanwhile, the Badgers are enjoying the peanuts.

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Here they are having some companionable family time at the sett:

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There is still a flock of Starlings rising and falling in the meadows:

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A lot of this group are youngsters:

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This Crow came in with a Crab claw, perhaps trying to soften it in the water to make it easier to eat. I can’t imagine that this worked.

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We are yet to see a Turtle Dove here, but are delighted that a pair of Grey Partridge are back. They haven’t posed in front of the trail cameras for us but the cameras have captured some other interesting photos this week:

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Green Woodpecker, so long and slender
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I love this photo of a Woodpigeon enjoying a bath. Looks like it’s in sheer ecstasy.
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Woodpigeon drama shot
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Herring Gull drinking. A little bit scary.
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One of our beautiful Stock Doves
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A female Kestrel taking a bath
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Yellowhammer action shot
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Beautiful group of Yellowhammer
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Fox cub at the new Badger hole
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I’m not used to seeing the Badgers in the daylight but I think that this is one of the triplets

The Buttercups are going over now and it is the turn of the Oxeye Daisies to have their moment:

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Never before have we lavished so much time and attention on the allotment:

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Swathes of Salad Burnet in the meadows are going to seed:

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I think their flower heads look like tasselled lampshades from the high Victorian era:

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Broomrape (Orobanche minor) is parasitic on Clover and therefore doesn’t need green chlorophyll to photosynthesise and make its own food. They are attached to the host by underground haustoria which grab nutrients from the Clover and transfer them back to the Broomrape.

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Common Broomrape can be a variety of different colours – we have a patch of really quite yellow stems of it in the first meadow:

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The wild Honeysuckle is out in bloom creating the most fantastic pockets of fragrance as we walk round the meadows. Good for checking that one hasn’t lost one’s sense of smell.

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The Hoary Plantain is one of the highlights for me at the moment:

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I am not sure if this last photo really captures how surreal this was: on this particular afternoon, the sea merged invisibly into the sky and this ferry appeared to be flying through the air into Dover:

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The Perfect Cub

The one-eyed vixen has brought out her cub:

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Over the past few weeks, we have been treating her for mange but it is a slow process and I was worried that her cub would have caught mange from her before the medicine had had a chance to work. But, as it turns out, the cub is perfect:

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Or are there two cubs:

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I haven’t managed to properly work this out yet but I think the other cub might have a different mother.

The one-eyed vixen still looks pretty tatty even after all this time of putting out medicated jam sandwiches for her. She hasn’t got any worse but there are no signs of her fur growing back yet. However, there was another mangey Fox that we were also targeting who had a very ropey tail. Here he is in mid April:

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Delighted to see how well he is doing now with fur growing back along the length of his tail. And lovely to feel like we have made a bit of a difference.

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With all these young animals, there are many more takers for the peanuts at dusk:

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The two mothers and four cubs

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When did we last have rain? It has been another tremendously dry spring and the ground is very hard and difficult to dig for worms in. At this point, the mother Badgers will be gradually weaning their cubs and withdrawing their milk so that the cubs have  to learn how to feed themselves. I read that, in years of spring drought, there is a great death toll amongst the young Badgers who are not strong enough and experienced enough to get to the worms that make up 70% of their diet and they simply starve.

We will do what we can to help by increasing the amount of peanuts that go out each evening until it next rains but currently there is no rain to be seen in the forecast. This does mean, of course, that we are getting through a tremendous amount of peanuts. We buy all our bird food from Vine House Farm – a farm in Lincolnshire that manages to be extremely wildlife friendly whilst still making a profit with their farming of bird food. Nicholas Watts showed a group of us from Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory round his farm a few years ago and we were extremely impressed with what he is achieving there. He trials conservation ideas out on the farm and shares the results with other farmers.

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Two of the fluffy baby Badgers
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An adult caught mid bedding collection
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Impatient to get going and appearing before it gets dark
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A magnificent Fox

Although we rarely see Buzzards here, shockingly there was a dead one lying on the grass one morning.

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The bird ringer came up to have a look at it and reported that it had broken its neck, presumably by accidentally flying into something. We put it onto the cliff path for the Foxes:

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The bird ringer has been doing some ringing here as well, now that The British Trust for Ornithology are once again allowing ringing outside one’s own garden.

He ringed four more Yellowhammer:

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He also caught two Whitethroat, a male and a female. The female had a brood pouch indicating that she was nesting:

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Male Whitethroat
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Female Whitethroat

The female Whitethroat was born this time last year. She has then flown all the way to Africa and back and still has the same feathers that she grew whilst in the nest. The middle tail feathers are practically bare by this stage:

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She now needs to raise her family and get them fledged and away and then she can finally moult and clothe herself in some more efficient new feathers to return to Africa later this summer.

At this time of year, the easiest way to sex Starlings is by their eye ring. The chestnut outer ring shows that this is a female. A male eye would be all black.

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Goldfinch

This Blackbird has been born this year. It is nice to discover that some nests manage to stay under the radar of the ever-watchful scrutiny of the Magpies and Crows.

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When I initially looked at this photo below, I thought that the Herring Gull was sorting out our over-abundant Magpie problem but then I saw that, of course, I was mistaken.

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We have also been seeing baby Robins and, in the last couple of days, a large number of recently fledged Starlings have appeared. The adult Starlings will now go straight on to having another brood whilst the offspring of the first broods will hang around in a gang together, working the meadows for invertebrates in the soil.

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Adult Starling on the left on the perch and three fledglings.
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Fledgling Starlings look rather odd

Brown Argus Butterflies have made their first appearance of the year in the meadows:

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They are very small Butterflies but not as tiny as the Small Blue:

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I thought I was seeing a Spider with a blue abdomen crawling in the soil and I ran for my camera:

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We caught it in a jam jar and discovered that actually it is a female Wolf Spider (Pardosa monticola or palustris) carrying her egg sac:

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The Oxeye Daisies are starting to come out in the meadows. They seem to be especially abundant this year:

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The chalk-loving Hoary Plantains (Plantago media) are also coming into flower, looking like wonderful sparklers:

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A Common Malachite Beetle, Malachius bipustulatus, a soft-winged flower Beetle, that I saw on the Hoary Plantain as I was photographing them

A couple of weeks ago, I reported to you that a Roe Deer had visited the wood. I now know I have misidentified this very large Deer:

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We are blessed with like-minded neighbouring wood-owners and this Deer has also been in their wood. They have images of it from behind and calculated the height to its shoulders to be around 1 metre by seeing how high it came up a tree. The upshot is that it seems that this is a Red Deer, which is surprise because their distribution map doesn’t show them in East Kent.

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Our neighbours image of the Red Deer

The rump of a Roe Deer, its smaller size and its head shape are all very different.

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Internet photo of Roe Deer from behind.

We might not often see Buzzards in the meadows but we frequently see them in the wood:

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Last year, a pair of beautiful Bullfinch nested in the wood and came to this pond every day, in due course also bringing their three fledglings. I had hoped that they would be back again this year and perhaps these photos mean that they are:

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Female Bullfinch (and Songthrush)
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Fleeting glimpse of a male Bullfinch as he flew.

I hope to get better images of this pair as the summer progresses. We are also trying to improve the photos taken at the Green Woodpeckers nest:

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Although the Great Spotted Woodpecker from time to time comes to peer into the hole, I don’t think that they are nesting in the same tree. But once the young start calling, they are so noisy and insistent that we should be able to pin down what’s going on.

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Great Spotted Woodpecker looking into a Green Woodpecker nest

Now that the nights are starting to warm up, I am getting much larger catches of Moths in the Moth trap and it takes quite a time the next morning to go through and identify them all. Last year I really didn’t have the space in my life to do this and ended up cherry picking the easy ones. This year, however, improving my moth recognition skills is exactly what I should be doing whilst locked down. Actually I am finding it incredibly satisfying to put the time in and get them correctly recorded. So, this year, for the first time, I will be proudly submitting my results to the County Moth Recorder – a small positive to come out of a terrible time.

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The spectacular Privet Hawk-moth, Eyed Hawk-moth and Lime Hawk-moth. I wish they were all as easy to identify as these beauties.

Pollination Heroes

It is always very satisfying to find a jigsaw piece that had previously been missing and slot it into its proper place in the puzzle. Mason Bees build walls of mud in their nests to create cells, into which they deposit a pile of pollen and lay a single egg. We have seen them gathering and carrying the pollen but, up until now, we have never been able to establish where they are getting their mud from.

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Red Mason Bee nests in an observation box

There are lots of them at work in the orchard and the hedgerows, collecting pollen from the flowers. Rather than carrying the pollen in baskets on their legs like Honey Bees and Bumble Bees, they hold the pollen on their tummies. This is a very inefficient way of doing things and pollen gets knocked off every time they visit another flower – which is what makes them fantastic pollinators, of course. Apparently it takes 20,000 Honey Bees to pollinate an acre of fruit trees but just 250 Mason Bees. What pollination heavy-weights they are.

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Coming in to her nest with a tummy full of pollen
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A female, carrying pollen on her tummy, pursued by a hopeful male. I had to spend time in a semi-squat to take these photos, peering upwards. There was only so long I could be in that position.

But it was a mystery where they were getting the soil from to make the mud walls. It needs to be damp and so we had looked at the edges of the ponds to see if they are going there but they didn’t seem to be. Now – and this is where our breakthrough comes –  for the first time, the Badgers have dug a tunnel that opens into the meadows rather than onto the cliff and, on a warm, sunny afternoon this week, I noticed that Bees were buzzing in down the tunnel.

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Getting down immediately onto my knees and peering in, sure enough, I saw that Red Mason Bees were flying about a foot down where it was cool, shady and moist and gathering up balls of soil.

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Gathering soil from down the Badger hole
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A female going back to her nest – this time her abdomen has no pollen on it but she is carrying a ball of soil in her mouth.

Such a revelation. It won’t only be Badger tunnels that they are using but we now know the sort of soil that they are looking for.

There is quite a worrying size disparity between the young Badgers.

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The single cub is second left. The triplets are alongside it and a mother Badger behind.

The single cub, born to the younger, inexperienced mother is not growing like the triplets are.

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The single cub on the right, facing one of the triplets. Mother behind.
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The single cub in the middle with one of the triplets to its left.

Not only is it very small compared to the triplets, it is also still being dragged around by its mother several times a night:

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It all feels not quite right but there is nothing we can do. Everything might anyway be fine – the young Badger certainly remains very lively and is playing well with the other cubs.

The male, Scarface, is interacting with the triplets below for the first time that we have seen. He must have come up under the fence and happened upon them by accident.

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Scarface on the left, attempting to groom one of the young

The mother comes forward and gives him a sharp rebuke and he immediately fades away backwards under the fence. He knows he is not allowed around the cubs at this stage and he completely accepts the telling off.

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It has been cold and breezy for most of the week and, in particular, bitter north-easterly winds gusting to 55mph blew solidly over Sunday and Monday. One of the Seatrade vessels sheltered alongside us on Monday – this is Pacific Reefer, a refrigerated cargo ship, that brings Caribbean fruits once a week into Dover. She carries bananas and pineapple below deck and containers of avocados, mangos, papayas, grapes, pomegranates and melons on the deck. She left Paita in Peru on 26th April, navigated her way through the Panama Canal, made her way across the Atlantic Ocean and arrived here in a gale on 11th May, 15 days later.

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Another ship that caught our attention this week was the Sky Princess, travelling from Rotterdam to Limassol in Cyprus. This cruise ship was only launched in October 2019 and can carry 3,660 guests and 1,346 crew and should have a 3 star Michelin chef on board. She did manage to get some Caribbean cruising in over the winter before all cruises were cancelled until further notice. I wonder how many people there are currently on board?

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From time to time, however, the winds dropped and we heaved sighs of relief.  Here are some of the things that have been going on:

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A beautiful Fox
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And another..
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The one-eyed vixen with her blind left eye –  somewhat flawed but still a beauty
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A fungal gall, Taphrina pruni, on Blackthorn that has made the developing sloe look like a chilli.
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A lovely patch of Wild Mignonette growing on some disturbed ground
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It does look like several of the seed pods on the Early Spider Orchid have been pollinated (probably self pollinated) and are starting to swell.
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Summer feels like it is officially starting with the arrival of the first Common Blue
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I have finally found a Ladybird that was not a Harlequin. A British 7-spot Ladybird.
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7-spot Ladybird

Like Red Mason Bees, Moths are also very important pollinators, although often overlooked by us humans since they mostly visit the flowers in the dark. Their furry bodies transfer the pollen around really nicely.

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Mother Shipton, a day-flying moth out in the meadows
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A Swallow Prominent from the Moth trap
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A Peppered Moth from the Moth trap

Although this bird below might look like it is a miserable victim of some drowning accident, regular readers will know very well that this is a perfectly healthy Green Woodpecker rubbing itself in sand after a bath.

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Although Green Woodpeckers are definitely the winners when it comes to extreme bathing, to my mind Jays come second. Here is one from the wood:

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The wood is completely glorious right now:

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This Song Thrush was gathering a lot of nesting material from around the pond area:

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A Buzzard has been hunting in this spot often over the past few weeks. I have had a look to see if I can see anything particularly interesting there, but found nothing.

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There are not a lot of Foxes in the wood but this one looks very healthy with a fantastic tail:

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Here it is with prey – looks like a bird to me.

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We have kept the camera on a pole looking at the Green Woodpecker nest:

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There is now a second camera on a pole hopefully looking at two other holes in the same tree to see if either of them are also being used this year. I will report back after our next visit.

In the regeneration area, the Guelder Rose trees (Viburnum opulus) are under attack:

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These are the larvae of the Viburnum Beetle, Pyrrhalta viburni. A native British Beetle but occurring here in numbers such that the leaves are being reduced to lacework. Not surprisingly this is seen as a garden pest – no gardener would want this happening to their Viburnums.

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I couldn’t find a single Guelder Rose that was unaffected. Hopefully the trees will grow more leaves once these larvae have pupated, but we will have to wait and see.

If I had any ability at all to paint, I would love to try to capture the drama and movement onto canvas of this last photo below. It is a really interesting composition and such a painting would look great on our wall.

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A Country Worth Fighting For

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We had a quiet and contemplative al fresco lunch today to mark the 75th anniversary of VE day. We know from old mapping that, not twenty metres from where we were sitting, there was a slit trench and an observation post looking out towards France during the war. It feels important to spend some time acknowledging what terrible times those were.

The wood in May is absolutely glorious. The Ferns are gently unfurling and the trees becoming clothed in fresh, green leaf.

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Large areas of Bugle in early May
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Leaves starting to resprout on the Hazel coppice stools that we cut over the winter
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The Cinnabar Moth’s underwings are all scarlet and this is what shows when it flies. Fluttering vermilion amongst the blue of the Bugle and Speedwell.

Because the feeders were not filled up for so long, we have lost a lot of our birds and the feeders, now replenished, hang there forlornly unvisited. However, we looked in a few of our small nest boxes as we walked around and every one had a nest in, so not all birds have deserted us:

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Great Tit on eggs

Last year we found a Great Spotted Woodpecker nest with loudly-calling young in a large Cherry Tree. This year, there is a new hole drilled into the same tree – they do sometimes use the same nest but often make a new one instead. We tried to arrange a camera on a long pole so that it pointed at this new hole to get some photos of the Great Spotted Woodpeckers going in and out. However, we didn’t get the camera position quite right and it was instead pointing at a different hole altogether. In the event, this turned out to be quite fortuitous:

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This older hole turns out to be an active Green Woodpecker nest. Green Woodpeckers, with softer beaks since they are generally pecking into soil to eat ants, do use the same hole repeatedly. They lay a single batch of 4-6 eggs in May and both parents share the incubation.

So, are Great Spotted Woodpeckers also nesting in this same tree as these Green Woodpeckers? We will get a second camera up on a pole and see if we can find out.

As well as lots of photos of Green Woodpeckers at this hole, the trail camera did also capture a Squirrel peering in. Actually it did this on several occasions and I read that apparently Grey Squirrels can be significant predators of bird nests.

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And also a Great Spotted Woodpecker had a look in:

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Even though we have been very absent recently, we have our trusty trail cameras to show us some of the things that have been going on without us. Like this, for instance:

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This is such a big animal with very knobbly knees – a Roe Deer. In fact, the same Deer turned up on a different camera as well and what a beautiful animal he is:

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And then the next photo was this:

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It seems that ground has not yet become too hard for the Tawny Owl to attempt to catch some worms. Here is its classic head down, concentrating hard, worming posture:

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And this is a particularly sweet little rabbit:

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Over winter we were working hard coppicing the Hazel in the wood. These operations were prematurely curtailed and we are yet to clear the ground in the area that we were working. There are piles of logs and brash still sitting on the woodland floor that, by rights, should now be getting sunlight onto it and bursting forth with woodland flowers. It would be lovely to properly get back to the wood and finish this job off.

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This week we had another walk in the nearby disused military firing range under the chalk cliffs. There were several clumps of Early Spider Orchids there:

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There is a Kestrel nest high up on the cliffs in a hole in the chalk. This time we couldn’t see a bird on the nest, but we did see Kestrels on the cliffs. This one had rodent prey:

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Back in the meadows, the Buttercup bonanza has probably now reached its wonderful peak.

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The allotment with Buttercup meadows beyond

A Chiffchaff has arrived from Africa and can be heard singing along in the hedgerows.

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The Chiffchaff that arrived in the meadows this week and hasn’t shut up since, it seems.

But this is not the only newly arrived bird that we have been hearing this week – the raucously loud and unmistakable calls of Peacocks were disturbing our peaceful English twittering on Wednesday evening.  They must have been roosting immediately below the meadows overnight because they were still calling from there at dawn on Thursday.  A quick search on the internet tells me that four Peacocks have escaped from a village just north of Deal. The owner didn’t clip their wings to allow them to roost in trees to be safe from Foxes. Two have been recaptured but the remaining two are still at large and they now have their own Facebook page and have been on the ITV news.

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Internet photo of the four escaped Peacocks. They invaded a local garage in Deal for a while including getting onto the office, it seems. I don’t understand why they didn’t just close the door on them and then all four of them would have been recaptured.

There is a lot of Broad Bodied Chaser activity at the ponds and eggs are being laid.

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A male, awaiting the arrival of a female

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A female grabbing hold of a Buttercup to rest up for a while.

It is that time of year when countless St Mark’s Flies billow around the hedgerows with their legs distinctively dangling.

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St Marks Flies.

We stood and watched the predatory male Dance Flies, Empis tessellata, who catch the St Marks flies and hold them across their bodies awaiting a female.

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Empis tessellata with his prey, a St Mark’s Fly, held below him

When a female arrives, the male offers her the St Marks Fly as a gift and then mates with her as she eats it:

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Male at the top, holding on to the leaf and to the female.  Female in the middle, eating the hapless St Marks Fly at the bottom.

While we were watching this fascinating drama being played out under our noses in the hedgerow, we saw these very little mating Flies with the most amazing green eyes:

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They are Celery Flies, Euleia heraclei, a species of Picture-winged Flies. After mating, eggs will be laid on host plants which will hatch and the larvae mine the leaves of the plants. They use a wide range of plants from the Apiaceae (Umbellifer) family – including Alexanders and there is a bountiful supply of those plants around here.

This is a nice Hoverfly with its bright yellow hairs:

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Myathropa florea

I thought that this tiny little day-flying moth below was a Mint Moth but it turns out to be the similar Common Purple and Gold Moth:

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Common Purple and Gold Moth

Another really small Moth:

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Small Yellow Underwing

And this minuscule little thing, the Small Blue Butterfly:

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I finally got a photo of a Wall Butterfly that I am pleased with

This Slow Worm is in the process of shedding its skin. It is interesting to see this happening and that the older skin, still on the back part of its body, is a darker colour.

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Looking to the skies, we saw our first Swifts on Thursday. Two of them, feeding over the meadows, and what a sight for sore eyes they were. By Friday, a pair were repeatedly flying by the Swift nest box and even briefly perched up on the bat box.

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We have also had a visit from two Red Kites, mobbed by Crows. Visits from Kites seem to be getting more frequent and I wonder if their range has spread closer to us.

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The meadows trail cameras have been coming up with some good stuff over the last few days:

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Male Kestrel

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Only our third ever sighting of a Hedgehog here. This animal needs to get itself away and fast – there are far too many Foxes and Badgers in these parts
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A Badger arriving too early for peanut time

May is the most magical of months. We were due to go on holiday this weekend and clearly this is not now happening. But the England we live in, the country that the people of seventy-five years ago had fought so hard for and sacrificed so much for, is a lovely place to be at any time but especially in May and June and we now wonder why we would want to be anywhere else.

 

 

Summer Visitors

So, here we now are in marvellous May. We are expecting some summer visitors from Africa shortly and have been busy preparing for them.

Actually, from the scritchy-scratchy song that we are hearing around the meadows, our first guests have already arrived. We didn’t need to do anything special for these ones – merely neglecting to tidy the hedgerows so that there is lots of wild, thorny growth does the trick  because that is exactly where they like to nest. Here is one of them, a Whitethroat, just back from sub-Saharan Africa:

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I understand from nature Facebook groups that I follow that other expected visitors, Swifts, have been arriving back to breeding sites around Britain. We haven’t seen any here yet but the bungs have now been taken out of the nest box and the electronic Swift calls turned on to remind them about our box once they do return.  Lots of them inspected it last year and I am really hopeful that this year they will decide to nest.

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The Swift box, primed and ready for action. Hopefully.

Our third potential summer visitor is the Turtle Dove. We are now starting the Year Three of putting down supplementary feed from the beginning of May to the end of June using a special seed mix provided by Operation Turtle Dove and the RSPB.

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Scattering the seed on the strip

Although, on paper, the meadows provide everything that a Turtle Dove might be looking for in a nesting site, we are yet to have any success in attracting them here. However, other declining farmland birds such as Linnets, Yellowhammer, Stock Dove and Grey Partridge have been visiting the seed and breeding locally and that too is an excellent result. We haven’t seen Grey Partridge since last year, though, but we remain ever hopeful.

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A male Linnet in glorious, full breeding plumage
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A ringed male Linnet photo taken by the bird ringer last year at the nearby disused military firing range. This bird was almost certainly ringed in the meadows. The bird ringer tells us he has ringed a total of 218 Linnets in the meadows.

 

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A surreal image of a Yellowhammer taken by the trail camera

We might not yet have seen Turtle Doves on the strip, but we do have two other species of Dove:

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A pair of Collared Doves have recently arrived in the meadows
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Stock Dove
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The UK holds 60% of the European population of Stock Doves and so we need to look after them
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They have lovely raspberry-coloured feet

And we have many Wood Pigeon:

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Cross eyed Wood Pigeon

Seeing these Doves and Pigeon milling around on the strip is what might catch the eye of a passing Turtle Dove and intrigue it enough to fly down to investigate. Here is Day 1 of the seed going down and the Stock Dove are playing their part wonderfully.

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It is such a privilege to be able to watch the Badger cubs as they start to learn how to be proper Badgers. They are becoming noticeably more confident every night.

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There are definitely four cubs but they are in constant motion and difficult to get a good photo of. I don’t know if the single cub is currently grounded and kept escaping, but it got carried back to its sett three times last night, at 9pm, midnight and 3am:

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The male, Scarface, is not allowed anywhere near the cubs at this stage of the proceedings and is living a solitary life at the fringes. As the days lengthen, he has been spotted out in daylight a few times.

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At the end of a hard night’s worming

After a long spell of dry and sunny weather, we have finally had some rain to refill the ponds and refresh the land.

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At this time of year, the meadows are awash with Buttercups and it is impossible not to be cheered by them:

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Cowslips as well
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The start of the Oxeye Daisies
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The first Yellow Flag Iris at the wild pond

Small Copper and Red Admiral are two more Butterflies that have made their first appearances of the year this week.

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A Small Copper on a Buttercup
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A Wall. This is a male (broad brown stripe in the middle of the forewing).

May is a time when Slow Worms mate. During courtship, the male takes the female in his jaws and bites the back of her neck.

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Internet photo of Slow Worm courtship

They then intertwine and start some lower body rhythmic waving before mating starts which can last ten hours. Whilst we are unlikely to catch the early parts of this ritual, we may be lucky to see the mating part since it lasts so long and so we shall now be routinely looking under our sampling squares to see what’s going on. There are sometimes a lot of Slow Worms under them:

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I have been making an effort to photograph and identify Ladybirds and thus learn a bit more about them. But every one that I have seen so far this year has been a Harlequin, I’m afraid. This invasive species originating from Asia but introduced to Europe to control aphids on crops is really bad news because it outcompetes our native Ladybird species for food as well as eating their eggs and larvae.

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Harlequin Ladybird
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Melanic form of the Harlequin

The Harlequin is very variable but can be recognised by a white triangle right at the front.

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When we first bought the meadows, it was probably a whole year before we even saw a House Sparrow here. Happily we now have lots:

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A pair of House Sparrows are setting up their home in the House Martin Box and here they are, mating next to it. This involved around five quick mounts and dismounts.

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It was all over quickly and the male went off into the chosen box:

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Summer Starlings are another species that we didn’t see initially but we do now. Here is one disturbing a Green Woodpecker’s bath:

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We have always had Crows though. Here is a rare tender moment between them:

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We have always had Magpies as well. Too many actually. I see that Magpies are managing to get themselves into the middle cage that has a larger gauge than the other two to allow Blackbird-sized birds to get in. But I’m sure it is meant to be Magpie-proof:

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There are a lot of Alexanders growing along some of the hedgerows but in one area of the second meadow, they are starting to encroach inwards. These robust plants are extremely good at self-seeding and, once established, are really difficult to pull out of the ground.

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They are just finishing flowering and starting to set seed so we decided to cut them down with shears and take everything away so at least there won’t be any seed produced in this area this year although the root systems will be still in the ground. We wage a bit of an ongoing war with Alexanders.

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Job done

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For three weeks now, we have been putting out medicated jam sandwiches at dusk to help several of our Foxes that have mange. This needs to be done for at least six weeks and so we are halfway through the treatment. The one-eyed vixen has not missed a single day which is just as well because she really is in a bit of a state:

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I hope that she is already getting better although we won’t be able to tell until her fur starts growing back.

I have come to look forward to taking the sandwiches out at dusk because she is almost always there first. This trail camera photo is just before I arrived and she is waiting on the pinnacle. It had been a rainy day:

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When the next photo was taken, I had appeared at the gate into the paddock. As I then advanced on the pinnacle, she did retreat a bit further than this, but not much – she was wary but stood her ground:

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And as I left, she was back for those jam sandwiches that she loves so much:

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But we are having to constantly review our sandwich-deploying technique to ensure they go down the right throats. For instance, last night the one-eyed Fox was again waiting for me in the ant paddock. She ate a few here and then quickly followed me down to the wild pond for the ones I also put down there. However, after she went, the Magpie ate the rest of the sandwiches. Clearly I need to wait until it is darker and the birds have properly roosted.

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But when she arrived down at the wild pond, it was only to find that the Badgers had come out early and were eating the sandwiches down there, forcing our girl to wait in the background until they were all eaten. If this happens again, I will start putting all the sandwiches out into the ant paddock where the Badgers don’t go until later into the night. It’s all very complicated.

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A ferry was behaving oddly this week. It was anchored alongside us for several days in calm weather, although also making several short trips back to Dover during this time.

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It is The Pride of Canterbury – a P&O ship used on the Dover-Calais route

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Flying a Cypriot marine flag at the stern

After two or three days she set off for Leith near Edinburgh. She is one of two P&O ferries that are going to be safely stored in Leith docks for the rest of the lock down since P&O are now only operating a much reduced ferry schedule.

Here is another interesting vessel that sailed past this morning. This is Solitaire, a pipe layer.

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Solitaire with France behind. She was built as a bulk carrier in 1972 in Hiroshima, Japan, but was then converted to a pipe layer between 1996-8 at Swan Hunter Shipyard on Tyneside. She is 300m long, has a crew of 420 when fully operational and can lay more than 9km of pipe a day.

Sometimes the Moon is so beautiful that I cannot resist trying to photograph it, usually with disappointing results that remind me that I need to get a tripod for my camera. This week, the new Moon was really close to the brightly shining Venus and we were out admiring the spectacle. I was quite pleased with this image of the moon, although I do still need to get that tripod…..

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